Category Archives: At Large

At Largeby Woody Zimmerman
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Scorched Earth

woody zimmermann 120The “reasonable” Obama – that exemplary outgoing POTUS who promised a “smooth” transfer of power to President-elect Donald Trump – is giving the country, not to mention his political opponents, a lesson in his concept of an “orderly” retreat from power. Timid Republicans, who naively believed that the gracious, “post-partisan” president would actually go quietly, are watching open-mouthed as Mr. Obama joyously torches everything he can on his way out the door. It is a wonder to behold – an absolute primer on a “scorched earth retreat,” Russian-style. To illustrate my claim, I cite the following examples (not necessarily a comprehensive list):

Cancellation of off-shore oil-drilling leases. Last week Mr. Obama issued an order prohibiting future offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and in all but 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea. He also designated 31 major underwater canyons off-limits for drilling, from Heezen Canyon, off New England, to the Norfolk Canyon near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. As authority for his order, Mr. Obama cited section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, which a president can use to designate national monuments to permanently protect parcels of land from development. Allegedly, the act contains no provision for a later president to undo those protections. Thus, Mr. Obama claims that his order cannot be reversed by subsequent executive order. A new act of Congress would be required to accomplish that. Dan Naatz of the Independent Petroleum Association of America deplored Mr. Obama’s leftward shift on energy: “With one month left in office, President Obama has succumbed to environmental extremists’ demands to keep our nation’s affordable and abundant energy supplies away from those who need them most by keeping them in the ground.” (Mr. Obama’s claim of “permanence” for his ruling will undoubtedly be tested in the courts.)

Prisoner-releases and sentence-commutations. Recent commutation of the sentences of 72 federal prisoners has brought Mr. Obama’s total of such actions to nearly 1,000 – the most of any president in history. This is part of Mr. Obama’s campaign against sentencing laws which have produced overcrowded US prisons full of minority prisoners who received long sentences due to controversial mandatory minimum sentencing rules. Past presidents have granted pardons and commutations on compassionate grounds, or because they believed an injustice had been done. But Mr. Obama has done it because of his political disagreement with federal law.

Emptying Guantanamo prison. Mr. Obama is attempting to make good on a key campaign promise: to empty out and close Gitmo. In his 2008 campaign he had vowed to close the prison, claiming that its very existence was a “recruiting tool” for terrorists. Last week, Mr. Obama announced plans to send another 17 or 18 of the 59 remaining inmates to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Most military experts agree that the 59 who remain are the “worst of the worst,” with at least 27 designated as “too dangerous to release.” During his terms Mr. Obama has released and/or repatriated scores of prisoners, many of which have found their way back into terrorism operations.

Russian “hacking.” The story that Russian penetration of our voting computers and hacks of Democrats’ e-mails aided Mr. Trump and damaged Hillary Clinton has been a convenient explanation for Mrs. Clinton’s fumble of a sure win. Although penetration of election computers isn’t possible, since they are not connected to the internet, Mr. Obama has done nothing to assure the public that this could not have occurred. He has simply remained aloof and allowed the tale to take on a life of its own. When voters finally saw that it couldn’t have happened, Dems accused the Russians of turning voters against Mrs. Clinton by hacking her e-mails and the e-mails of Democrat officials. Mr. Obama has encouraged this tale by letting the CIA state publicly that the Russians definitely did this. There is, however, no agreement among other national security arms that this scenario actually occurred – and even less agreement that it influenced voters. But the whole thing has smeared Mr. Trump’s win – another ember in the scorched earth.

UN Security Council’s resolution on Israel. Last week, a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory was put to a vote in the United Nations Security Council. The original UN charter specified five permanent members of the Council (The USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, China and France) who could exercise veto power over any SC-resolution. In the past, the USA has always vetoed any anti-Israel resolution. But on this latest occasion, our ambassador was directed by the White House to abstain – thereby allowing the resolution’s adoption. (The UK and France voted against, but did not veto it.) Mr. Obama’s non-action was seen as a parting slap at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose relationship with Mr. Obama has been strained during most of Mr. Obama’s tenure. But the resolution is more than symbolic. It automatically becomes a tenet of International Law, branding Israel as a violator. The repercussions of this might adversely affect peace in the Middle East, as well as the entire world. As with other of Mr. Obama’s closeout actions, this one also cannot easily be remedied by a new president’s direct action. A new Security Council resolution introduced to reverse this one would almost certainly be vetoed by China or Russia. Only some hardball politicking by our new UN ambassador can get the resolution repealed.

The Iran Deal. Mr. Obama’s “legacy” foreign policy achievement was to be the landmark deal that supposedly keeps Iran from getting the atomic bomb – at least while Mr. Obama and his presumptive successor, Hillary Clinton, were still in office. After that, welllll… we would hope for the best. Meanwhile, the deal would produce a “kinder, gentler” Iran, whose leaders would be more inclined to sit down at the Table of Brotherhood to sing Kum-Ba-Yah with us, Israel, Syria, Russia, the reformed Iraq, and the murderous ISIS swine who plan to establish a worldwide “caliphate,” starting in the Middle East. This would be Mr. Obama’s parting gift to us and the world.  But instead of a new, peaceable Iran, we now have a more aggressive, warlike Iran whose leaders are confident that their most outrageous actions will elicit no pushback from a US president who desperately wants to keep his legacy-deal intact until he can get out the door in January. President Trump will be left to untangle (or cut through) this Gordian Knot which (many experts agree) will surely give Iran the Bomb – after which the Islamist terrorists are dead certain to get it, too. (I emphasize the word “dead.”) My “scorched earth” list is ordered in a rough reverse-chronology, with the newest instances first. But ordered by seriousness, the Iran deal would be at the top of the list. A nuclear-armed Iran and ISIS should be (as Thomas Jefferson once said of slavery) a “fire-bell in the night that awakens us and fills us with terror.”

Obamacare. The calumny of Obamacare is too detailed to be summarized in this brief analysis. Suffice it to say that Mr. Obama has repeatedly issued executive orders that fatally weakened the system’s financial foundation. As Josh Blackman has written: “Out of desperation to get as many people as possible signed up for health insurance, the Obama administration has arbitrarily suspended onerous mandates, modified coverage requirements and extended enrollment periods.” Most of these “administrative fixes” were issued to delay the most painful mandates until after the elections of 2010, ’12, ’14 and ’16, to limit the political damage. The public’s growing awareness of these artifices finally produced a Republican Senate, in 2014, and now a Republican president who has declared his intention to cancel the unpopular legislation. He can’t act too soon, for all those “onerous mandates” delayed by Mr. Obama’s “fixes” are about to hit the fan. It will be the mother of all scorched earth retreats, under a putrid rain of political doo-doo.

Shadow government. Undoing 225 years of presidential tradition, Mr. Obama has declared his intention to live in Washington, DC, after he leaves office. He claims that it is so his daughters can finish their secondary educations, but it’s not hard to see that his purpose goes deeper. Mr. Obama obviously intends to keep a close watch on how Mr. Trump governs. In particular, he will try to stop any attempts to undo his “legacy” achievements. He will be a highly visible rallying point for disappointed Democrats who can’t understand what has become of their nice, orderly gravy-train world. In effect, Mr. Obama will be running a “shadow government” from his new DC-digs. He has no plans to fade away gracefully. There’s no law against this, but it won’t smell good to voters who want to feel (and smell) a new, fresh breeze from the nation’s capital.

Weakened military. This problem has less visibility, but it’s very, very serious. With little understanding of how serious fighting men are produced, Mr. Obama has systematically stripped our service arms of strong leaders, and has conducted a ruinous campaign to use the services as social laboratories. This has undoubtedly weakened unit-cohesion, morale, and fighting strength. What some have called the “feminizing” of the armed services has even invaded our last bastion of pure warrior-culture, the US Marine Corps. Through Mr. Obama’s two terms, the Corps has fought a valiant, rearguard action against female, gay and transgender incursions, but it has been unquestionably weakened by resultant lowered standards. Reviving the Corps and shaking off the effects of Mr. Obama’s social “improvements” will be one of Mr. Trump’s most urgent tasks.

Opioid Epidemic. The abuse of both prescription opium-derivative drugs and illegal heroin has reached alarming levels in recent years, with overdose-deaths up dramatically. Although this is cited as a national “health” problem – and it certainly is that – the great unmentioned issue is porous borders that allow dangerous drugs to pour into the USA from Mexico, South America and China. Mr. Obama may not have intended this as part of his “scorched earth,” but it’s just as serious as if deliberately designed. On the other hand, there is no doubt that an important part of the liberal playbook is using crises as reasons to demand more government programs, funding and control. If some misguided policy, like open borders, can produce a crisis, so much the better.

Organized resistance to the Trump Inauguration. Plans to protest and disrupt the Trump inauguration are proceeding, with Al Sharpton in a key leadership role. The internet is awash with reports. The media see no problem with this. Nor do most Democrats – evidently including Mr. Obama. He should see a problem, however. If it happens, it will be a disgraceful spectacle for the rest of the world to see, and a dismal end to his presidency. We’ll look like a Banana Republic – or a Third World satrapy. A word from Mr. Obama could scotch the whole thing. I sincerely hope he speaks it.

Obama’s advice on executive orders. The richest part of Mr. Obama’s scorched earth strategy – the capstone, one might call it – has been his sage “advice” to the president-elect on executive orders. “Do as I say, not as I do…” was the gist of it. In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Mr. Obama said it’s preferable to work with Congress. “My strong preference has always been to legislate when I can get legislation done,” he said. (Who knew?) But he might have added that he did what he had to do to accomplish what he knew the country needed. You just can’t fool around with a recalcitrant Congress when there’s so much vital work to be done… What a guy! If nothing else, he gives new meaning to the term “chutzpah.”

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So there you have it – the gracious Obama, the man of the people, the humble public servant just trying to leave the country better than he found it. As the old Irishman said, “It brings a lump to your eye and a tear to your throat…”

What a country!

Till the Last Dog Dies – Democrats’ Post-election-chaos Campaign

woody zimmermann 120

I have frequently observed in this column that we live in interesting times. One might have assumed that we had reached the apex (or perhaps the nadir) of those times in the recent presidential campaign that produced President-elect Donald Trump. But one would have been wrong. Instead, post-election political shenanigans have reached a new level of “interesting-ness” – or perhaps “bizarreness” might be more accurate.

I have now lived through seventeen presidential elections which I can actually recall, starting with Dwight Eisenhower’s election in 1952. None of these came close to the absolutely crazed reactions – bordering on outright insanity – coming from voters, politicians, activists, “educators,” commentators, and reporters across the country who dislike the election’s results. (“I spit upon your electoral system, sir!”)

Defeated in thirty states – more than enough to give Mr. Trump a 306-232 electoral vote decision – Mrs. Clinton’s die-hard supporters refused to accept the fact that their candidate didn’t gain enough electoral votes to win. Instead, they have resorted to blame, bullying, threats, and grasping at straws. No one has been hurt, but we’re not past this yet. Even the valiant Robert E. Lee knew when to quit. Democrats, not so much.

Dems’ initial ploy was to blame FBI Director James Comey for costing Mrs. Clinton the win by announcing, just 10 days before the election, that the FBI was re-opening its investigation of her e-mails. Some 650,000 e-mails were evidently found on a laptop computer belonging to Mrs. Clinton’s close aide, Huma Abedin, and shared by Ms. Abedin’s husband, (the notorious internet-pervert) Anthony Weiner. It could be assumed that Mr. Weiner was not cleared to see a fair number of those messages.

Even the all-in-for-Hillary media couldn’t ignore a story this juicy. To retain whatever credibility they still had, they had no choice but to report it. (The salacious element of Mr. Weiner’s involvement, of course, played no part in that decision.) A week later Mr. Comey announced that nothing new was found. But the damage was done. Mrs. Clinton’s poll-numbers had taken a hit. Democrats widely believe that this episode mortally wounded Mrs. Clinton’s in the Battleground states she had expected to carry.

After the Comey-did-it story fizzle out, the Dems’ next move was to support “green” party candidate Jill Stein’s call for recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – all states carried by Mr. Trump. She raised over $6 million to pay for the recounts. In Wisconsin, the recount produced a net gain for Mr. Trump of 131 votes. In Michigan, a recount began, but a judge ordered it stopped. The Michigan Supreme Court later refused to review that ruling. In Pennsylvania, a federal judge denied Ms. Stein’s request for both a recount and an investigation into election-tampering.

Democrats next move was to attack the Electoral College, which they consider “antiquated.” Ever since election-night they have beat the war-drums and shouted from the house-tops about the disparity between Mrs. Clinton’s popular vote majority and her electoral loss: It’s not right! It’s not fair! It’s basically un-American! (Yadda, yadda, yadda…) Mrs. Clinton carried the popular vote by 2.8 million votes (by unofficial count), but lost the Electoral College vote, 306-232. She carried 20 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

This disparity might look worrisome to many, but I’m a numbers guy, so I looked a little deeper. It turns out that Mrs. Clinton carried New York by 1,728,021 votes – winning 4,520,925 votes, while Mr. Trump won 2,792,904. In California, Mrs. Clinton’s count was 8,753,788; Mr. Trump’s was 4,483,810. So Mrs. Clinton’s winning margin was 4,269,978. Thus, she carried those two states by a total of 5,997,999 votes. Since her national popular-vote margin over Mr. Trump was 2.8 million, this means that Mr. Trump actually prevailed by some 3.2 million votes across the other 48 states. Mrs. Clinton’s 6 million-vote majority in those two states made the Electoral College seem out of kilter with the country, but it was just a localized illusion.

The argument about the Electoral College has been going on for donkey’s years – first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I believe – and it will probably continue long after I’m gone. Things get especially intense when Democrats lose in the Electoral College, but win the popular vote. This last happened in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote, by about ½ million, but Mr. Bush carried the Electoral College, 271-266 – a real squeaker. The post-election was thrown into turmoil because Mr. Bush carried Florida by just 535 votes. Florida’s 25 electoral votes would have flipped the election to Mr. Gore, but the Supreme Court stopped Democrat-attempts to conduct “selective” recounts in just four Florida counties. This left Florida in Mr. Bush’s column, giving him the win.

Democrats have claimed, ever since, that Mr. Bush’s election was not “legitimate” because the Court “gave” him Florida. Of course, it didn’t quite happen that way, but as Mark Twain famously said, “A lie gets halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its boots on.” Myths have a perverse way of hanging on. Just so, the story that Mrs. Clinton “won” the 2016 election, but was denied the presidency by political chicanery, will become part of Democrats’ version of history.

Mr. Obama, himself, recently called the Electoral College a “vestige” – a “carryover” from the time of the founding fathers – that “put a lot of premium on states.” (No! Not that!) And New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor told Meet The Press host Chuck Todd that the electoral college is “steeped in the idea of slavery.” (Well, that does it. Anything devised by a bunch of white slave-owners has got to go.)

Today, reports say that political activist and film-maker Michael Moore offered to pay electors who would switch their votes away from Donald Trump. He said he would also pay whatever fines they might incur by doing this. If this isn’t election-tampering, I’d like to know what is. (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to imagine the stink that would be raised by Democrats and their media-allies, were the political situation reversed.)

As I write this, protestors are said to have attempted to block electors’ entre to buildings in their respective state capitals where they will cast their electoral votes for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote. Some electors committed to Mr. Trump report getting “tens of thousands” of e-mails and letters demanding that they change their votes. There are rumors of actual death threats to electors, but those reports remain unconfirmed.

The Mother of all tales about why Hillary Clinton lost the election, though, is the story – now regarded as Holy Writ by the Chattering Class – that the Russians “hacked” our election computers and stole the election for Donald Trump. This isn’t possible, of course, since few (if any) states have their election computers connected to the internet. Without that connection, there can be no access for a would-be hacker. Only large states like New York or California might have the wherewithal to do this, but as we saw, Mr. Trump won neither of these states.

As even wooly-headed reporters (who don’t know much about computers) have gradually realized that election-hacking could not have occurred, the story became: “The Russians influenced voters by passing hacked Democrat e-mails to WikiLeaks.” This could be true. Certainly those e-mails were hacked, but there is no agreement in the “spook” community on who did it. And there is even less agreement that the hacked (and released) e-mails influenced voters. A WikiLeaks official says a Democrat insider – not the Russians – passed them the hacked e-mails. But why spoil a good story with facts?

“The Russians Did It” story has led the news for weeks. Some Democrat politicians called for the Electoral College to delay its final tally until after electors are briefed on what went down with the Russkies. There is no mechanism or precedent for this, however. The effort to delay the final vote was doomed to fail, as indeed it has.

A media-blitzkrieg aimed at turning enough Republican electors to give Mrs. Clinton the election was the Democrats’ last straw of hope. It has also failed. As I finish this article, two news-reports about the Electoral College have appeared. One says Mr. Trump has “cruised” to an easy win. Another indicates that there were seven “faithless” electors. Five came from coastal states that Mrs. Clinton won – four from Washington and one from Maine. Two were from Texas, which Mr. Trump won. Each cast his vote for someone other than Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. The final electoral count was 304-227, with Mr. Trump the winner.

Democrats – including the sainted Michelle Obama, who says all “hope is gone” for the country – have disgraced their party’s once-honorable reputation by their post-election conduct. I am embarrassed for them. Their cynical attempt to spook voters into countenancing a post-electoral coup d’etat did not succeed. But more than that, I sense that the entire contrived chaos was ignored by Republican voters, as well as by many Democrats who comprehended the true reasons for Mrs. Clinton’s “unexpected” loss.

Voters who took a chance on Mr. Trump were fed up. They were “mad as hell,” and they weren’t going to take it anymore. Essentially, they exhibited a key element of the American character. We can be pushed, and pushed, and pushed some more, as we go about our daily lives. Tyrannically minded folks might conclude that there’s no limit to how far we can be pushed. But they’re mistaken. Finally we won’t be pushed any farther. When that point is reached, all hell breaks loose and the American people will rise up. I believe that happened on November 8th.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt concluded his call for a declaration of war with the words: No matter how long it may take us … the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I anticipate a revival of that spirit. Some challenging days certainly lie ahead. Mr. Trump knows he has his work cut out for him. He needs our support and our prayers. Let’s give him both.

Get the Hook

woody zimmerman 118 2007During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama furnished much good media-copy by proclaiming that GOP candidate Donald Trump was “temperamentally unfit” for the presidency. Mr. Obama undoubtedly meant to posit himself as the exemplar of fitness for the office – although it was far from clear how he thought his own Olympian stature was somehow imputed to Democrat candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Perhaps just by association? Or was it her forensic skill on the podium? Her competent handling of the nation’s foreign affairs? Her easy manner with the hoi polloi? Or maybe her exemplary family – especially that big, loveable lug, Bubba? (Surely I jest, you might say. She had none of this going for her. She was an empty pantsuit.)

Whatever convoluted logic made Mr. Obama believe he was establishing Mrs. Clinton’s bona fides for the nation’s highest office will forever remain a mystery to this writer, and will probably never be clear to voters, either – assuming that they even care. Perhaps Mr. Obama still believed that the word of his mouth made it so – or, at least, would make listeners believe it was so because of who he is. (For what it’s worth, I think the latter conviction has weighed his entire presidency down like millstone.)

Leaving all this aside, let’s wade into the riotous aftermath of Mr. Trump’s dramatic victory – an unexpected result that completely shocked pols of both parties, as well as multitudes of pundits, reporters, and students. A month on, some of these are still huddling in their safe-spaces, wondering how this could have happened. Hillary-partisans are pinning their fading hopes on a recount-upset, but there’s no way, Jose. History teaches that an election can be stolen only secretly, in the dark of night – never in the light of day with myriads watching every move of the recounters.

Although Mr. Obama has made appropriate noises about accepting the verdict of the people, his post-election conduct has caused more than a few observers – including Yours Truly – to wonder if he really means it. Increasingly, Mr. Obama seems to be casting doubt on his own “fitness” to be an ex-president in the traditional sense.

I have now lived through the exits of twelve presidents, ten of which were still living when they left office. I reached the age of ten on the very day in 1953 when Harry Truman gave the White House keys to Dwight Eisenhower, so I recall his departure very well. Insiders say he was not pleased that a Republican had won the office, but he made no statements denouncing the voters’ judgment or impugning General Eisenhower’s “fitness.” Ike had won the war in Europe for us, so his reputation was untouchable. Any criticism of him would have been considered absurd. Whatever Mr. Truman’s personal feelings and political views might have been, he kept them entirely to himself.

After leaving office Mr. Truman declined all corporate offers of executive positions, saying that they wanted him only because he had been president. The presidency, he said, was not for sale. He lived until December 1972, so the 20 years of his ex-presidency overlapped my own years of growing political awareness. At no time did I hear him make public statements on national policy or attempt to exert political influence in any way. He even declined the Congressional Medal of Honor, saying he didn’t deserve it. At one point he said that his two career options had been politics or a piano-player in a whorehouse. “And to tell the truth,” he said, “there’s not much difference.” I didn’t agree with Mr. Truman, politically, but you’ve got to admit that the guy had class.

Ike was followed by John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Mr. Kennedy was assassinated, of course, and Mr. Nixon resigned under a cloud, so he kept a low profile after he left office. Of the others, only Democrats Carter and Clinton have commented on public policy or candidates’ “fitness” for the office. Jimmy Carter, in particular, fashioned a whole new career lecturing voters on what a terrible mistake they made by rejecting him in 1980. (He never quite recovered from his landmark defeat by Ronald Reagan.)

Truman and LBJ were the Democrats who kept mum. All six Republicans have generally avoided intervening in politics, although G. W. Bush did endorse his brother, Jeb, during the 2016 GOP primary. But he has carefully avoided making any statements on Mr. Obama’s presidency or on either Mrs. Clinton’s or Mr. Trump’s candidacies.

With Mr. Obama, though, it’s a whole new ballgame. He is discarding the old (unwritten) rules and conventions on ex-presidents’ conduct. Barack O has made it clear that he plans to stick around Washington, having leased a $5.3 million mansion in the tony Kalorama section of D. C. – just a stone’s throw from the White House. (After all, where else could he live? In Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago? Are you kidding? The Murder Capital of the USA? Way too dangerous for the ex-First Fam.)

Barack Obama will be the first president since Woodrow Wilson, in 1921, to remain in Washington after he leaves office. Mr. Wilson was ill and disabled at the end of his term, but Mr. Obama is a robust 55-year-old who obviously intends to keep a (very) close watch to ensure that his “legacy” accomplishments are protected. If they are threatened, he knows that a live media-microphone and TV camera will always be available for him to denounce Republicans’ ruin of what he worked so hard to accomplish. He’ll be America’s first “president emeritus” – always ready to take the stage again, dressed in his signature Armani suit with the immaculately creased pants.

Back in the day we used to say you could do what you wanted if you were free, white, and twenty-one. You can’t say that today, of course – not in Mr. Obama’s case anyway. All kidding aside, though, Mr. Obama can certainly do whatever he wants after leaving office. Indeed, he can pretty much do what he wants while he’s still in office, as he has repeatedly shown over these past eight years – ramped up considerably in recent weeks. Right after the election he took a whirlwind “farewell tour” of Europe. It was planned as a “victory lap” to brag about his accomplishments and celebrate the passing of the torch to his “supremely qualified” successor, Hillary Clinton, who would carry on his visionary policies. But We The People didn’t quite follow the script, as one media report wrote:

“Barack Obama spent the months before the US election denouncing Donald Trump as unfit for office. Now he must eat his words. When he makes his final visit to Europe this week, Mr. Obama’s awkward job will be reassuring nervous allies that a Trump presidency will not be as bad as they fear.”

His latest blast at the incoming Trump administration was a December 6th speech on national security that he gave at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. As reported by Reuters:
“President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned that the United States would not be able to wipe out terrorism with military might, as he offered a sweeping defense of his administration’s national security record. In his final major speech on counterterrorism as president, Obama argued that his administration had been able to make al Qaeda ‘a shadow of its former self’ and had put Islamic State on its heels, but said terrorism would remain a threat to the United States… Obama spoke of the importance of adhering to American laws and values and against reinstating the use of waterboarding or imposing a religious test on immigrants, two positions that Trump has supported in the past.”

There was more in the Reuters report, but these excerpts give the basic flavor. It was a remarkable display of Mr. Obama’s hubristic sense of omniscience, as he lectured his successor on how to handle matters on which his own performance stank. (Perhaps he was generously passing on what he had learned from his mistakes.)

In the past few days Mr. Obama has blamed sloppy intelligence reports for inaccurately estimating the threat posed by ISIS. This, he now claims, is why he failed to defeat this rising Islamic terrorist force during his terms. (Really? Is anything ever his fault?)

A president of real accomplishment doesn’t have to run around the country (or the world) reminding everyone of all the great things he has done. People will know it without being harangued about it again (and again). Mr. Obama must have snoozed through the class on outgoing presidential decorum during his cram-course on “how to be president.”

Back in vaudeville’s heyday, the expression “get the hook” was sometimes heard when a performer had overstayed his welcome on the stage. A long pole with a hook on the end was thrust out from the wings to haul the yawner out of the spotlight. Nothing like that is available to rid the public of a politician who still loves hearing the sound of his own voice long after his audience has tired of it. But Barack Obama is definitely that guy. He’s waaay past his expiration date. As we used to say in the old neighborhood, he needs to put a sock in it. If he doesn’t, we’ll wish we had never heard of him. Truth be told, the country might be there already. The next six weeks can’t pass too quickly.

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The Obamas’ new DC-digs. (Not the White House but, hey, we all have to make sacrifices.)

 

Math Education: Where We Went Wrong

woody zimmermann 120(Second in a series.)

A few years ago we visited old friends. At dinner our conversation migrated to education, a topic in which they have a strong interest because they and several of their grown children – also present during our visit – are public school teachers. At one point I suggested that the public schools had “gone off the rails” with respect to teaching math. They became defensive because each felt he/she was putting forth a good effort and working very hard. They admitted that the system had “some problems,” but thought they were mostly “administrative.” None was a mathematically trained teacher, however.

I know these folks to be intelligent, capable people, and I know their children are, too. Obviously there are many fine teachers in our public schools. But it would be disingenuous to claim that every teacher is capable, for all is not well. We have a serious problem with math and science teaching. And if we don’t figure out what it is, our country is going to be in a lot of trouble. This won’t show up at Starbucks Coffee or the mall, but at the far deeper level of engineering, new product development, manufacturing, well-paid jobs, and international trade – all critical to our country’s long-term strength.

It’s not just a few old fogies (like yours truly) blowing off steam. A study conducted by the Third International Mathematics & Science Study (TIMSS) in 1996 showed that American high school students ranked 15th out of 16 nations in mathematics, and dead last in physics. Said Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences:

“Our students fare poorly on the largest, most comprehensive and most rigorous international comparison of education ever undertaken. This simply is not acceptable. It is our responsibility to prepare our youth for the next century, and we are failing them.” [1]

Thus, my friends’ contention that they were working hard and putting in a “good effort” is not persuasive. Many business people work hard and put in a good effort, yet their businesses fail because their skill level is not great enough or their product was of insufficient quality or their business/marketing plan was flawed. A “good effort” doesn’t cut it in the marketplace (or with a sports team). Why do educators think it should in their “marketplace?” (Especially when the results are so poor.) Even Hottentots in Africa know that failing schools get increased funding. What other business gets that?

The TIMSS study showed that American fourth-graders scored competitively, but that scores had declined significantly by the eighth grade. This begins to indicate where the problem might lie. Researchers also found that the highest-performing students study the most rigorous subjects under well qualified teachers who majored or minored in the subject in college. Students receiving less demanding studies, under less qualified teachers, don’t fare as well. And now – as we saw in last week’s article – some educators are blaming students for not learning under bizarre methods of instruction. Later TIMSS studies have not been much more encouraging about American students’ capabilities.

I first saw that something was amiss with mathematics education when I tutored a young math student in 1962, near the close of my sophomore year of college. The student, trying to complete the 9th grade, had been enrolled in an experimental mathematics program. It featured nine workbooks to be completed across the year at the student’s own pace.

Unfortunately, the program’s designers had either failed to comprehend – or had forgotten – that 14-year-olds rarely have an accurate sense of the pace needed to complete a large task across an entire year. The teacher had not monitored progress, except near year-end. By then, my pupil had completed only two of the nine required workbooks. He faced failure in the course, which would have sentenced him to summer school if he wished to start high school in the fall.

In a madcap three-week effort I helped tutor him through the remaining books at something approaching warp speed. The max-cram effort let him squeak through with a passing grade and avoid summer school. Maybe the program worked for some, but in this case a teacher forgot that he still had to teach and monitor his students’ progress. Although fully capable, intellectually, my student never recovered from his poor math foundation. He should have repeated 9th-grade math, but that didn’t happen.

After completing college, I tutored some junior high school students who were weak in math. Invariably, my students were trying to do algebra without having mastered the multiplication tables. I was astonished that their teachers had not noticed this deficiency. I explained to their parents that a student who must wrack his brain to solve 9×8 or 5×7 cannot effectively study algebra or any higher math. It’s a foundational issue. You can’t do algebra without facility with fractions, and you can’t work fractions or parse a number into factors without an absolute mastery of the multiplication facts.

I spent hours drilling those kids on the multiplication facts, making them write the tables over and over – as my 5th grade teacher did – until they could say 9×8=72 and 5×7=35 without pausing to think. Then we could finally catch up on the skills and concepts of algebra. Eventually, I worked myself out of a job with each one. I have often wondered if any went on to higher math.

Doing a complex thing – baseball or music or math – always starts with mastery of certain fundamentals. In baseball, you have to be able to throw and run and catch and hit. These are the basic skills of the game. Players who aspire to advanced levels must do them very well. Playing an instrument or singing also involves basics. All this is well known and seems obvious.

Over the last 50 years, however, educators have experimented with “new” ways of teaching math. They theorized that students could be taught to “think mathematically” without having to go through the hard labor of learning the fundamentals of the discipline. This has led to disastrous results onto which platoons of educrats have piled increasingly bizarre theories.

When we lived in New Jersey, during the late ‘90s, I read a news article which described New Jersey’s top math educator’s plans for future public school math-teaching. Notably, he wanted to eliminate the proof-based teaching of geometry. He claimed that this “turned off” many students. His stated aim was to make math-teaching more “intuitive” in order to reach the 80% of students who typically opt out of higher mathematics.

This absurd proposal from an influential educator was the equivalent of a teacher insisting that the world is flat. (I think something snapped in me when I read it.) Did he not realize – I asked in a letter to the editor – that the precise difficulty with math is that once you get beyond using fingers and toes, much of math is counter-intuitive? Its abstract concepts cannot be grasped intuitively, but can be derived only by progressively applying more basic knowledge via formal proof.

Indeed, it seemed that New Jersey’s highest math-education official didn’t understand that proof-based learning is not only the key to math, but to all higher education. Beyond geometry class, one rarely needs to know that “when two parallel lines are intersected by a transversal, the alternate interior angles are equal.” But discovering new truth via rigorous proof – usually taught in the geometry curriculum – is an invaluable technique that carries a student through his entire education. How could an educator of such stature not comprehend this?

In a formal analysis of New Jersey mathematics teaching, Dr. William G. Quirk writes:

“…Progressives preach their gospel of ‘discovering math through problem solving.’ You may think this refers to the traditional process whereby teachers ask questions and present problems which have been carefully chosen to lead students to discover teacher-targeted math knowledge. Not so! Progressives preach open-ended ‘exploration,’ with no expectation that different kids will ‘discover’ the same thing.

“Forget about a careful step-by-step buildup of core math knowledge that all students learn to understand in the same correct way. Progressive educationists believe that each child must ‘construct [his] own meaning,’ with [his] own personal version of mathematical knowledge somehow emerging from attempts to solve complex, real-world problems, with the further complexity that the problems must be chosen by the students, based on their personal interests.

“Progressives don’t believe it’s right to pre-specify what kids should learn, and they don’t believe that all kids should be required to learn the same content. This in turn forces them to redefine the meaning of ‘testing’ to equate it with ‘finding out what each kid has discovered,’ rather than identifying what each student has failed to learn.” [2]

Perhaps the most mind-boggling details of math-education theory documented by Dr. Quirk are the “progressive axioms” of the New Jersey Mathematics Curriculum Framework, which I list below. (Please note how often the word “belief” appears. Axioms are unsupported by data.)

  1. Belief that each child must be allowed to follow their [sic] own interests to personally discover the math knowledge they [sic] find interesting and relevant to their [sic] own lives.
            Rejection of the concept of a common core of basic math knowledge that all children should learn during the K-12 years
  2. Belief that children must “construct” mathematical knowledge for themselves.
            Rejection of teacher-directed knowledge transmission.
  3. Belief that all knowledge must be acquired as a byproduct of social interaction in real-world settings.
            Rejection of classroom learning.
  4. Belief in the primary importance of general, content-independent “process” skills.
            Rejection of the need to remember any specific math content.
  5. Belief that calculators have fundamentally changed the nature of math.
            Rejection of the need to acquire traditional paper-and-pencil math skills.
  6. Belief that learning must always be an enjoyable, happy experience, with knowledge emerging naturally from games and group activities.
            Rejection of any attempt to challenge a child to work harder.

Although the axioms suggest how far wrong math teaching has gone, there are undoubtedly far deeper issues involved in the story of how math education reached a point where such absurdity is accepted. Examination of these is beyond the scope of this short article. But I conclude with an obscure quotation that seems perfectly harmonious with modern approaches to teaching math:

“In its soundest application, education becomes a selective tool by which the student reinforces what he already knows to be the truth.” [3]

That almost-plausible sounding statement was penned by Adolph Hitler in 1924. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to calculate how far down that road we have gone, and whether there is any chance of getting back.

(As promised, solution of the problem posed in last week’s column is given below.) [4]

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[1] “U.S. Teens Rank Low in World Tests;” Nanette Asimov; San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 1998.

[2] “The Truth About the New Jersey Math Standards – An Analysis of the New Jersey Math Standards (NJMS);” Wm. G. Quirk, Ph.D., 1997-2002. (http://www.wgquirk.com/NJmathst.html)

[3] Mein Kampf; Adolph Hitler, 1924.

[4] Problem: There are two fractions which have the same denominator. If 1 be subtracted from the numerator of the smaller, its value will be 1/3 of the larger fraction; but if 1 be subtracted from the numerator of the larger, its value will be twice that of the smaller. The difference between the fractions is 1/3. What are the fractions?

Solution: Let x/a be the smaller fraction; y/a the larger fraction.

Then the equations are:

  1. (x-1)/a = y/3a
  2. (y-1)/a = 2x/a
  3. y/a – x/a = 1/3

These become:

  1.  3x – y = 3
  2. –2x + y = 1
  3. –3x + 3y = a

Adding (1) and (2), we find x=4, and we obtain y=9 from (1) or (2).

Using these solutions in (3), we find a=15.

Thus, the fractions are 4/15 and 9/15.

When Politics Really Makes a Difference: Increasing Graduation Rates

woody zimmermann 120A recent visit to my son’s family in North Carolina produced some robust discussions on mathematics education in our public schools with our grandchildren. This prompted me to update and rerun this earlier article, which now seems more apropos than ever.

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When I first read that Georgia state legislators had voted to decrease the number of credits students needed to graduate from high school (to lower the dropout rate), I laughed out loud. When I stopped laughing, I realized this was one of those things (as my Pop used to say) that ‘wasn’t funny enough to laugh at, but we’re too big to cry’.

Then mirth was replaced by anger. Really, I wondered, are we selecting people to govern and educate us who are playing with less than a full deck? It seemed unbelievable that those posing as serious leaders could have so little understanding as to think that making a diploma easier to get would do anything positive for either those students or society in general. Later, I read that other states are moving similarly to raise graduation rates by lowering requirements. (Hello! Is anyone in there?)

My siblings say I’m sounding more and more like my grandfather. “When I was your age,” he used to say, “I got up at 4 AM, peeled 20 lbs. of potatoes, walked 5 miles to school, barefoot, and was scolded by the teacher for being late.” I have always been skeptical of all those tales of hardship, although the potato part was probably true. Grandpa’s people were potato farmers; they ate potatoes three times a day.

For all I know, maybe all of it was true. Things were different in the 1880s and ‘90s – especially in school. I know this not because of movies I’ve seen, or because of grandpa’s tales, but because I actually have his high school textbook, Milne’s High School Algebra, published by The Eclectic Press, Cincinnati, in 1892. (Grandpa graduated in 1901.)

I began to work some of the problems in that book when I was in junior high school and grandpa was still around to talk about them. I’m more amazed than ever when I look at the sophisticated material a high school graduate was expected to master then. Here is an example (from page 164 of Milne):

There are two fractions which have the same denominator. If 1 be subtracted from the numerator of the smaller, its value will be 1/3 of the larger fraction; but if 1 be subtracted from the numerator of the larger, its value will be twice that of the smaller. The difference between the fractions is 1/3. What are the fractions? [1]

When I show that problem – actually, a fairly trivial one from Milne’s section on Simultaneous Equations – to modern high school (or even college) students, most of them answer, “Say what?” Other sections in Milne include: Quadratic Equations; Progressions; Imaginary Quantities; and a lengthy chapter on the Binomial Theorem, a topic I studied in college math.

Contrast this with Rain Forest Algebra – the moniker that author, college professor and parent Marianne M. Jennings hung on a textbook she found her daughter using. Here are excerpts from an article she wrote about it for the Christian Science Monitor on April 2, 1996. (I beg my readers’ indulgence for this lengthy verbatim passage, but Mrs. Jennings’ account is so expressive that I thought it best not to attempt a summary.)

“I am a college professor who has algebra homework every night. My teenage daughter is studying algebra using a book that includes Maya Angelou’s poetry, pictures of President Clinton, and lectures on what environmental sinners we are.

“It has photos of students with names such as Tatuk and Esteban, who offer my daughter thoughts on life. It includes icons for fine arts, industry and science. The book is full of color pictures and graphics. About the only things you can’t find are explanations about how algebra is done and actual algebra problems.

“Welcome to rain-forest math. My daughter is studying algebra under a newly adopted, district-wide curriculum that includes an integrative textbook and cooperative/group learning. Students measure their wing spans for a class period. They toss coins for another class period just to be certain we aren’t lying to them about probability. For all I know, they’re joining hands and singing ‘Kum By Yah.’

“What’s certain is they are not learning algebra. Though my daughter has an ‘A’ in beginning Algebra, she has yet to grasp the idea that what you do to one side of the equation, you must do to the other.

“When I spoke to her teacher about the book and how class time was being used, she responded: ‘We don’t plug and chug anymore. We’re teaching them to think.’ It’s odd, however, that the students are never required to show their work on homework papers or tests. ‘How do we know what they’re thinking if all we’re checking is answers,’ I asked. The teacher assured me that five years from now these kids would be great in math.

“I did some research and found an integrative, group-learning math experiment in California. Now in its fifth year, the program’s first graduates are in college. Not surprisingly, they can’t even pass remedial math at that level.

“Other parents and I joined forces and went one-by-one to the school to discuss our concerns. First, we sent in an engineer. She questioned the use of application problems before the students have been taught the basics. Our engineer mother was told that she did not understand the education process or what was needed in the business world.

“We sent in a lawyer. He returned having been told that universities had guided and approved the curriculum and textbook. Next it was my turn. I was given the worst blow of all: ‘You may have to face the fact, Mrs. Jennings, that your child may not get algebra.’ I had tried to explain that my daughter is studying Captain Nemo and South American languages, but can’t find rise over run explained anywhere.

“I made an offer to the assistant principal and the head of the math department: Give the students a standard algebra test covering the areas mentioned in the book so far; if they do well, I’ll go away. ‘We don’t do that,’ they sniffed. They directed me to the central administration. I tried a friend on the school board. She offered the ‘she may never get algebra’ defense of the curriculum, but set up a meeting with district officials. I met with assistant superintendents in charge of instruction, curriculum, and math.

“I took in pages from the book. Find the problems, I challenged them. I even took along another mother. ‘Find an explanation of order of operations’, she said. We asked about showing work. I mentioned the California program. Two of the three told me, ‘You may just have to face the fact that your daughter won’t get algebra.’

My child and thousands of others are being sacrificed on the altar of theory. I am told of studies that confirm this instructional approach works, but no copies of the studies have been forthcoming.” [2]

With incisive training like this, is it any wonder that American students score near the bottom among students from the top twenty countries in the world (but feel best about their level of learning)? Talk about believing your own press clippings. It is a triumph of advertising.

I am embarrassed for a store clerk who gets confused when I give him 20 dollars and 2 cents, after his register has calculated my change from $20. (I wanted to eliminate the pennies from the change for a bill of $18.47.) He gave me $1.53 in change. I shook my head and pushed the coins back. His face clouded. Then, comprehension dawned. He confidently gave me 51 cents. Again I shook my head. Finally – desperate now – he gave me $1, two quarters, and five pennies. I gave up. Those change-calculating machines have saved modern merchants from complete ruin.

Of course, our degraded education levels affect us far beyond wooly-headed clerks who can’t figure change. One of the more ruinous effects of Rain Forest Algebra and its ilk is that, increasingly, students graduating with mathematics and engineering degrees from American universities are from foreign countries, where the benefits of Rain Forest Algebra have not yet been bestowed. Know-nothing math “educators” are re-making us into a third-world country of young Dummkopfs hanging out at the mall in $300 sneakers, smoking weed, and texting on cell-phones produced in foreign countries.

As Mrs. Jennings observed, many indigenous American students cannot qualify for higher levels of mathematical study because they lack the required foundations. But finally the states (God bless ‘em!) are responding to this serious situation by taking decisive action. One by one they are paring back the requirements for a high school diploma so more students can get a piece of paper that says they are educated. It’s a political miracle – almost a rapture! (Really, I don’t know how we can be expected to go about our normal work…)

As Yakob Smirnoff used to say, “What a country!”

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[1] The fractions are 4/15 and 9/15. (No, I didn’t cheat by looking at the answers.) See if you can work the problem. Solution in a later column.

[2] See Dr. Jennings’ article in its entirety at http://www.csmonitor.com/1996/0402/02182.html

bill clinton

The RF-Math President

Third Party Irony

woody zimmermann 120A year and a half ago I marveled at how Hillary Clinton’s campaign continued to sail serenely onward despite her numerous scandals and ethical baggage (“HMS Hillary Sails On Under Fire: How Can She Win?” – AH Herald, June 19, 2015). I suggested that Madam Hillary might have a few cards up her sleeve that assured her of a win. One of these was what I called “The Perot Solution.”

For readers who didn’t live through the interesting events of 1992 – or were too young to recall them – I recounted how a virtually unknown governor of Arkansas (Bill Clinton) managed to unseat a sitting president (George H. W. Bush). He performed this unlikely feat with the invaluable help of an outsider businessman with a large ego and a strongly conservative fiscal message who could run a plausible third-party campaign. That character was billionaire Ross Perot. His low-tax message resonated with voters who felt betrayed when President Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge. And his folksy style and semi-comical appearance (“I’m all ears…”) made him a media darling. He won no electoral votes, but he succeeded in drawing off 19% of the popular vote, nationally – most of which would probably have gone to the president. This left Mr. Bush with only 37.5% of the popular vote. Bill Clinton rode triumphantly into office with 370 electoral votes, while winning just 43% of the popular vote. (His winning popular vote total was the second-lowest in history. Only Abraham Lincoln’s 39.8% – achieved in 1860 over a split Democratic Party – was lower.)

Mr. Perot encored his 3rd party run in 1996, drawing 8.4% of the popular vote away from Republican Bob Dole, who won just 40.7%. Bill Clinton took 49.2% and 379 electoral votes to win his second term. After those two forays into national politics, Mr. Perot faded back into obscurity. A strong suspicion lingers that the Clinton Camp induced him to run – possibly even financing him – but nothing was ever proved. (In truth, the media did not look very hard into the details.)

In that June 2015 column I wrote:

“I have been waiting for a new Ross Perot to ride to the rescue of Mrs. Clinton’s flawed campaign. It would have to be a conservative figure – preferably with a dramatically attractive message and personality – who would think himself so important to the country that he might consider running as a third-party candidate if he is not accepted as the GOP nominee. This past week that dynamic figure appeared in the person of Donald Trump – a.k.a. ‘The Donald.’ Some Republicans will like him because his bold message resonates with their concerns for the country and for their personal situations. He’ll raise hell all over the place, and have fun doing it. The media will love him because he is such good copy. He probably won’t win the GOP nomination, but he’ll make the race exciting. Will he consider running on a Freedom Party ticket, or some such? Who knows? He has a giant ego and scads of dough, so he might go 3rd-party for the right inducement. He could be Hillary’s 5 o’clock surprise – the ‘miracle’ she needs to gain the Oval Office.”

As fate would have it, though, Mr. Trump did not just run as a “useful nuisance” candidate to divide the Republican vote and give Mrs. Clinton an easy win. Against all odds, he actually won the Republican nomination with a strong, conservative message, straight talk that resonated with “forgotten” middle-class voters, and a dramatic, “take no prisoners” style. Pundits and establishment pols could not believe he could be a plausible candidate, but their every effort to trash Mr. Trump as “unsuitable” failed.

Vastly enjoying the spectacle of the Republican Party destroying itself, the Clinton Camp lolled in their chaise lounges, sipping Evian Water and piña coladas, and dreaming of glorious White House careers. Too late they realized that The Donald was much more than a buffoon. He was a serious candidate who was barnstorming through the Rust Belt and ruined coal-producing states – drawing huge crowds with a message of renewal, economic recovery, protection from terrorism, border-security, and regained military greatness. He was even (gasp!) drawing reliably Democratic voters – the erstwhile Reagan Democrats – into his orbit. His attacks on Mrs. Clinton’s ethics, as well as on the Obama legacy, were drawing blood. He had to be stopped, but the hour was late.

In late May 2016, former governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson stepped forward as the Libertarian Party’s candidate for the presidency. Mr. Johnson had run for president in 2012, and he made a big media splash at first, polling 10% in some national polls. Could he be Hillary’s “Perot Solution” who would guarantee her win?

Maybe. But which voters would Mr. Johnson attract? Would they be Republicans who disliked Donald Trump’s style? Or would they be Democrats alienated by Hillary’s leftward, anti-capitalist, anti-oil, anti-cop, pro-abortion posture? No one knew. Democrats had expected Donald Trump to wreck the GOP and possibly fill the 3rd-party role, so they had not prepared anyone else.

Democratic graybeards saw that it was doubtful that conservatives would accept the pro-choice, pot-smoking Johnson as a serious alternative to the aggressive, plain-speaking Donald. Indeed, any such hopes soon evaporated. Mr. Johnson’s campaign nose-dived when he showed ignorance of foreign affairs in a TV interview by asking, “What is Aleppo?” (i.e., a dangerous hot spot in Syria, teeming with desperate refugees.) After that, Big Media paid him little attention.

Jill Stein ran as the Green Party’s candidate, but she received even less media-coverage than Gary Johnson – probably because Clinton-supporters in the media saw that she would draw only Democrat voters away from Mrs. Clinton.

Together, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Stein drew about 5% of the popular vote, nationally. This kept both major candidates from gaining a clear majority – a non-decisive circumstance in the election, since only a candidate’s Electoral College votes are important. But they may have tipped the balance in Mr. Trump’s favor in four states where the vote was very close. These were Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – all states which Mr. Trump won narrowly. The vote-percentages are shown in the following table:

Dem GOP Other Reported Electors
Fla. 48% 49% 2% 100% 29
Pa. 48% 49% 2% 99% 20
Wis. 47% 48% 4% 100% 10
Mich. 47% 48% 4% 100% 16
TOTAL 75

Without the 3rd– and 4th-party candidates, It’s entirely possible that Mrs. Clinton might have won some (or even all) of those states. Just Florida and Pennsylvania would have given her the presidency (281-257); or Florida and Michigan (277-261); or Florida and Wisconsin (271-267). Any three of the four would have done it.

Thus, in one of history’s greatest electoral ironies – undoubtedly engineered by Bizzarro, the god of strange historical justice – the 3rd-party strategy that gave Bill Clinton the presidency might have lost it for the little woman and her Party of the Traveling Pantsuits. In baseball, it’s called “going to the well once too often.”

As Pastor Lon Solomon [1] likes to say, “Not a sermon – just a thought.”

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[1] Dr. Solomon is senior pastor of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia.

Apocalypse Now

woody zimmermann 120Last Tuesday evening I retired around 11 PM, expecting – with odds of at least 60/40 – to wake and find that the classic, “late-reporting precincts” had pushed Hillary Clinton over the top. As I dropped off, I was already framing my explanation of how the country would be affected by voters’ unfortunate decision to give Hillary Clinton the presidency, despite her ethical lapses and flagrant disregard for the nation’s security.

But the fish did not flop that way. Instead, my wife – awake half the night, herself – greeted me at 7 AM with the news of Mr. Trump’s amazing victory. We could hardly believe it. Confounding most experts, Mr. Trump won 290 electoral votes of twenty-nine states – including Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – while Mrs. Clinton won twenty states and 232 electoral votes. (With 96% of the vote counted, Mr. Trump leads Mrs. Clinton by 0.3% in Michigan. The winner will take Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.)

Instead of having to describe the “sadness” of a Clinton-win, I have been reading articles in the reverse vein in the Washington Post and New York Times, written by columnists who are aghast that The People – who they thought would surely overlook Mrs. Clinton’s “trivial” flaws – took a leap of faith and elected business-tycoon Donald Trump.

Politicians across the country are also in complete shock, with some leaping (figuratively, at least) from tall buildings. Others are following the waggish doggerel of yore: When in turmoil, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout. As Confucius (might have) said, “Truly, one cannot lose them all.”

Establishment types – including such worthies as George Will, Mitt Romney, and much of the Bush-clan – were betting on Hillary Clinton to utterly rout the Trumpster and clear the way for them to rebuild the wreckage of the Republican Party under their measured guidance: i.e., something along the line of “Republicans – we’re not as bad as you think.” Some even “predicted” – hoped for, would be more accurate – a Clinton win of historic proportions, like the one inflicted on Barry Goldwater in 1964.

In that campaign, Democrats and the media scared the public with the infamous “Daisy Girl” TV commercial, which shows a young girl idyllically picking daisies as a voice-over ominously counts down: 10-9-8… Suddenly, the horrific, roiling image of a nuclear blast fills the screen. Only LBJ could save us from this fate; but “crazy” Goldwater would blow up the world. In March 1965, as colleagues and I listened to LBJ’s call for 500,000 troops to fight North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, one wiseacre cracked that it was lucky we didn’t elect Goldwater. He would surely have gotten us into a land-war in Asia.

Today, millions of people across the country are in a panic. Their world has been turned upside down. At some colleges, classes were cancelled so students could grieve and receive counseling to help them cope with the horror that has befallen the country. Young schoolchildren – scared to death by the Trump-boogeyman that teachers, Democrats and the media have created – are in actual distress. And among what we once called the “adult” population, Facebook-rants are being posted, angry e-mails are flashing back and forth, and relationships are being damaged – perhaps irreparably – by intemperate words and actions. It is a truly bizarre time. I’ve been following politics since the late 1950s, but I’ve never seen anything to match this. At any moment I expect bearded, be-robed guys to emerge on street-corners, bearing signs that warn “The End is Nigh.”

I was a college freshman in 1960, when America elected its first Catholic president. Having had a fairly strict Protestant upbringing, I considered this a pretty radical departure from tradition. It’s hard to imagine it now, but in those days Protestants thought Catholics were the “enemy.” Pamphlets were circulated warning of Catholics’ plans to establish a world-government with the Pope at its head. But as a young bucko – busy playing football, singing songs, studying math, and watching the girls – I wasn’t too alarmed that our dashing young president went to mass on Sundays. It didn’t top my list of concerns. Like most Americans, I assumed that the country would work things out, as we usually did. In 1960, we were still drawing from a large reservoir of optimism produced by our triumphs in World War II and the robust economy of the nifty fifties. What could possibly go wrong? We could surmount any situation.

Of course JFK didn’t exactly run on the idea that everything in the garden was lovely. In particular, he bashed the Ike-Nixon economy, which had been crippled by the 116-day steel-industry strike of 1959. President Eisenhower finally invoked the Taft-Hartley Act’s 80-day “cooling-off” period to get the industry (and the country) going again, but the damage was done. The strike had wide repercussions across the economy. Automobile companies – unable to get the steel they needed – were beginning to seek foreign supplies. By 1960, a recession – mild, in historical terms – had set in.

Senator Kennedy also hammered the so-called “missile gap” between us and the Soviet Union – claiming that we were losing to the Russkies. President Eisenhower and Vice-president Nixon vigorously denied this, but with Soviet space-exploits on full display, the public suspected that they were probably ahead of us. With his rakish good looks and easy charm, the Senator barnstormed across the country on the motto: “We can do bettah.” The media absolutely loved the guy. They thought the future had arrived.

The election was a real squeaker, with the sour odor of fraud lingering over Illinois and Texas. But Americans accepted the result with equanimity and went about their business full of our customary optimism. I don’t remember anyone panicking, seeking psychiatric counsel, or vowing to flee the country. (The flight to Canada by young men escaping the draft came later.) Of course, we had no inkling of the tumultuous decades of war and political/social unrest that lay ahead. (After all, with a photogenic babe like Jackie redecorating the White House, the world seemed pretty OK.)

A history prof was the lone Democrat on the faculty at our college in the ‘60s. He was a good-natured young PhD, liked and respected by everyone. We tolerated his views and even gave his New Deal liberalism a polite hearing. When I met him at an alumni gathering, 40 years later, I asked him if he was still a Democrat. He ruefully shook his head and said the party “had left him long ago.” The New Deal was a fast-receding speck in the rear-view mirror by then, and he saw that Democrats were no longer the champions of the working man that they were in days of yore.

1980 was a much more disruptive “change-election.” The news-media – we still linked “news” and “media” in those days – were mostly pulling for (and expecting) President Carter’s re-election. They had been drumming the theme that Ronald Reagan was “just a dumb actor reading lines.” He was “acting a role.” There was no way he could be fit for the office. OK, he was a two-term California governor, but that was considered a dubious credential. It was widely whispered that the former B-grade film actor was just a figurehead, while others did the actual governing. We simply couldn’t have that in the presidency. Besides, he was a “cowboy” who might pull the trigger and blow up the world. He even had a ranch and rode horses, for heaven’s sake. All Republicans were believed to be warmongers. (Sound familiar?)

Mr. Reagan’s win produced much greater shock to the body politic than did Mr. Kennedy’s. It wasn’t a close result – Mr. Reagan took 44 states – but yellow-dog Democrats believed he would hurt poor people and cut Social Security pensions. A daughter of old college chums said she hoped we could just hang on and stop him before he “wrecked the country.” (She believed it, too.)

Ten years later, amidst a booming economy and unprecedented prosperity, academics were still bemoaning the damage done by the “Reagan budget cuts.” Even Hottentots in Africa knew that Reagan had ruined the country. In 1987 I was shocked to learn that Swiss friends thought him more dangerous than Soviet Leader Gorbachev. They considered him an ignorant airhead who would probably pull the nuclear trigger.

With all that history behind us, I hope 2016 will go down as the absolute nadir in election insanity. I wonder if things can get much worse in terms of open rebellion over election results. There is rioting in some cities, and there is even wild talk of “turning” some members of the Electoral College to stop Mr. Trump from becoming president. And, as I stated earlier, there is also much animosity and disruption at the personal level.

Following my pre-election article (“Just a Flesh Wound”) – which joked that the mortally wounded Hillary-campaign resembled the crippled Black Knight in a madcap ‘70s movie – an old college-comrade wrote, questioning my faith and scolding me for writing “…such political refuse and then asking God to allow the election of a person who overtly walks over everyone in his path.” Our Alma Mater had taught him better, he said. Evidently I missed the lesson where students were taught to argue political issues by impugning another’s faith. (A tactic first mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I believe.)

In truth – all kidding aside – this is very thin ice for any Christian to stand on. If we think someone’s ideas are misguided or wrong, we can certainly say so and argue the point. But judging the genuineness of a person’s faith is waaay above our pay-grade. The Bible says only the Lord knows a man’s heart. We’ll all do well to remember that.

After the election, another reader wrote, urging me to use my “bully pulpit” to deal with the “…hate that is being spewed out all over in Trump’s name. Blacks, immigrants, and other minorities are genuinely scared,” he said. “This is not hysteria, it is real.” I couldn’t tell where he thought the “hate” was coming from – hopefully not from Republicans. The ones I know didn’t vote to hurt anyone (except for a few who voted for Hillary to hurt Mr. Trump). We’re neither xenophobic nor Islamaphobic. We’re Normal Culture folks who want the country to get serious about things that can and do hurt us. Electing new leadership – flawed though it might be – was the only way to make this happen. Putting Mrs. Clinton – with her record of “public service” – in the Oval Office was unacceptable.

The jury is still out on what steps Mr. Trump will actually take to keep his campaign promises. Democrats and their media allies are already on the attack, trying to “flip” Mr. Trump – or at least make it appear so – on some of his signature objectives. Trying to turn him on Obamacare – Mr. Obama’s controversial legacy-achievement – is their first salvo. But I doubt that it will succeed. Premiums are through the roof, and 70% of the people oppose it. Mr. Trump knows what the people think. It’s why he won.

My counsel – for what it’s worth – is that Mr. Trump should say little until he takes office. Then he should go big with a political Blitzkrieg. (I have no doubt that his inner circle is advising him similarly.) Meanwhile, he should keep Dems and media talking-heads guessing about his plans, and keep them occupied by trotting out his cabinet-choices in slow-motion. Do some presidential things, like visiting the troops and sitting down with Pentagon pooh-bahs. Pundits were very concerned about Mr. Trump’s “temperament,” so he should put on his CEO hat, show the flag, and act the role. A man of his experience will have no trouble doing this.

All this might obscure the crucial fact that Mr. Trump must reassure his voters – at the earliest moment – that he fully intends to follow through on illegal immigration, taxes, jobs, energy, health care, the crazy transgender bathroom-diktat, and the defeat of Islamic terrorism. If he welshes on his deal with those who brung him to the big dance, there really will be hell to pay. But I don’t need to tell him that. He already knows it.

For our part, I urge citizens of every political stripe to roll up their sleeves, hitch up their pants (baggy or not), and get to work with hope in their hearts and a spring in their step. Let’s expect great days ahead. In Rodney King’s famous words: “People, can’t we all just get along?”

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection…” (Abraham Lincoln, 1861)

 

Just a Flesh Wound

woody zimmermann 120What a difference a month can make in a presidential campaign. At the start of October, the Trump campaign had floundered through some bad weeks. A former Miss Universe – Alicia Machado – came forward to accuse Mr. Trump of having called her some rude names nearly 20 years earlier. She said he called her “Miss Piggy” just because she had gained a mere 60 pounds during her reign. The media blow-dry set were aghast and covered nothing else for days. “Do we want someone this crude in the White House?” they asked. Then a parade of women from The Donald’s past came out of the woodwork to claim that he had groped them or otherwise treated them rudely, back in the day.

I have not heard than any of those stories was confirmed, and it was soon disclosed that the offended Miss Machado had appeared in porn films and had once been accused of driving a getaway car in a Venezuelan murder case. She quickly faded off the front pages as the Clintonistas found her no longer useful in their campaign to trash Mr. Trump.

During this mud-throwing period, Democrats and their media liege-persons mocked Mr. Trump as an inept campaigner, a rube, and a sure loser who had no idea what he was doing. He was stumbling around like a blind man in a china shop. How could this guy ever be president? With each new Trump “gaffe,” reporters, pundits and Democrat partisans pronounced the Trump-adventure “over” – kaput, as dead as Jacob Marley.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton – the heir-apparent to the Obama Throne – was cruising serenely toward her coronation. It would be the well-deserved apex of her glorious political career. She was widely praised as a consummate politician – an irresistible political force – who was temperamentally suited and superbly qualified to hold this sacred office. (Except for the Catholic Church’s archaic policies, she would surely be in line to be the next pope after her 8-year presidential reign.)

Mrs. Clinton held a commanding lead in the national polls – as much as 10% in some samples. WikiLeaks-disclosures of e-mails hacked from some Clinton top-bananas continued to trickle out, but Big Media either ignored them or brushed them aside as having no importance. It was nothing, they assured us. Mrs. Clinton had it in the bag. She would sweep the Electoral College. Establishment pooh-bahs of both parties were jubilant that the “paper lion,” with all his bombast and crude name-calling, was finally vanquished. It was all over, Baby. What a wonderful time to be alive!

But then, Bizzarro, the god of strange historical justice, struck without warning. Having cleared Mrs. Clinton in July of any “indictable” wrong-doing in the case of her private e-mail server, FBI Director James Comey shocked the world – not to mention the Clinton campaign – with his October 28 announcement that the FBI planned to re-open the case because new evidence had come to light. Primarily, that evidence consisted of some 650,000 e-mails from (and to) Huma Abedin, Mrs. Clinton’s closest aide and confidant, that were found on a personal laptop shared with Ms. Abedin’s estranged husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Mr. Weiner had been publicly disgraced for apparently sending pornographic e-mails to an underage girl. His involvement was like manna from heaven for young, sensation-hungry reporters.

Following Mr. Comey’s dramatic bombshell, the Clinton campaign and its media acolytes mounted a furious offensive to vilify the FBI director, whom they had praised to the skies just a few months earlier. They blamed the Russians for the e-mail hacking, and claimed that there was nothing new in any of this. Unfortunately it was also disclosed, in the same week, that two laptops belonging to Clinton aides, supposedly destroyed by FBI agents, had been retained and were being examined for possible evidence in both the Clinton e-mail case and in a second investigation of the linkage between the Clinton Foundation’s money-raising and Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. Her campaign was sailing into uncharted waters.

These events brought to mind the madcap 1975 British film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which contains a hilarious scene with King Arthur and The Black Knight. The latter is resolutely blocking a bridge that Arthur wants to cross. The knight refuses to let Arthur pass, so they commence a sword-duel to decide the matter. The Black Knight is very fierce and aggressive, but Arthur is more skilled and soon lops off the knight’s left arm. “’Tis but a scratch,” says the knight. “I’ve ‘ad worse.” He refuses to yield and fights on, one-armed. Arthur chops off his other arm, but again the knight won’t quit. He tries to continue by kicking, so Arthur cuts off one of his legs. “It’s just a flesh wound,” shouts the crippled knight, as he hops around spewing blood and insults. Losing patience, Arthur cuts off his other leg, leaving the knight on the ground. “Running away are you!!? Come back here, you pansy, and get what’s coming to you,” shouts the now armless and legless knight. “Chicken! Kook-kook-kwawk…”

This classic British slapstick scene seems like a reasonable metaphor for what the presidential campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton has become. The wounds she has suffered are far more serious than the trivial charges hurled at Mr. Trump. Whatever folks might think of his public persona, there’s no getting past the fact that he has never endangered the nation’s security. The media can continue to natter at him, while making light of (or ignoring) the damage Mrs. Clinton has inflicted on herself, but she remains seriously wounded, while he forges on, relatively undamaged.

Long-time Democrat pollster Pat Caddell says Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been “going down like the Titanic” since the FBI re-opened the criminal investigation into her unsecured e-mail server. He predicts a possible “landslide victory” for Donald Trump. “The dam is about to break,” said Mr. Caddell, earlier this week.

Of course, the Black Knight metaphor isn’t entirely accurate for at least two reasons: first, because Mrs. Clinton’s wounds were inflicted not by an opponent, but by herself; and second, because the outcome of the Clinton-Trump match will be decided by another party, not by one of the contestants. That highly interested party is the electorate. Except for stoned druggies, backwoods denizens isolated from the outside world, and longtime-riders on the government gravy-train, the public’s attention is now fully focused not on Mr. Trump’s “flaws,” but on whether Mrs. Clinton is, herself, truly fit to be president. She naturally thinks so, since her standard was set by loveable old Bubba. (After all, if that schmo can be president, why shouldn’t she?) But the voters might see things a little differently.

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have hammered what they call Mr. Trump’s “temperamental unfitness” for the office. He’s simply too rude and too crude to stand on the world stage with foreign worthies. He’s unstable; he can’t be trusted near the “nuclear codes.” Besides that, he’s xenophobic, homophobic, possibly hydrophobic, a Tee-totaler, a hater of women, a racist (and probably a Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan). He’s a bumpkin who couldn’t get into the servants’ entrance of the White House.

This is obviously great sport for the Clinton team, and wonderful copy for reporters of all ages. It also usefully deflects attention from Mrs. Clinton’s serious character-flaws. But one doubts if the voters are listening to her shrieking any longer – if they ever did. She sounds increasingly like the de-limbed Black Knight hurling insults as Arthur leaves the field. (“You’re a disgrace! You’re yellow! Your mother wears combat boots! Come on, then! It’s just a flesh wound!”)

On Tuesday we’re going to find out if voters will actually give a woman with Mrs. Clinton’s record and judgment the nation’s highest office. God help us, if we do. Choices at this level have real consequences, and real life isn’t a movie.

“The LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man…” (Genesis 6:3)

 

Another Diversion (Or is it?)

woody zimmermann 120The most bizarre presidential campaign in living memory took an even more bizarre turn this week when FBI Director James Comey “amended” his statement of early July, which had indicated that an indictment of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would not be sought regarding her use of a private e-mail server to receive and transmit classified documents. As I noted in an earlier article [1] Director Comey had declared that Mrs. Clinton and her staff “…were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” while concluding “…that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” In plain language, the matter was closed.

These declarations predictably produced much rejoicing in the Clinton camp over the vindication of their righteous candidate, and at least as much bitter denunciation of political “foul play” from the Trump side. Eel-like, Mrs. Clinton had once again slithered free of what looked – to millions of Americans well-acquainted with rules and laws governing classified material – like clear violations of those laws. It was an escape worthy of Willie Sutton himself. [2]

But this week, according to Mr. Comey, the game is once again “afoot.” Exact information is sparse on exactly why the e-mail case was re-opened, but “insiders” (whoever they may be) say that classified information appears to have been sent to the cell-phone of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Mrs. Clinton’s advisor and vice-chair of her campaign, Huma Abedin. At present, the situation is extremely confused, with both presidential campaigns voicing opinions the exact opposites of those they held after Mr. Comey’s July announcement. Republicans think it might be their 11th-hour miracle. Democrats act like someone just threw a jockstrap into the punch-bowl.

Dark theories abound on why Mr. Comey would suddenly re-open the Clinton e-mail case just 10 days before the election. Being a lifetime-member of the Grassy Knoll Society myself, I resonate with some, but have no special knowledge on which (if any) might be true. My best tack here is to describe each theory briefly, give my assessment, and let the reader decide which seems most plausible. Here are five possible theories that have reached my ear (in no particular order). I’ll conclude by indicating my favorite(s).

(1) It’s a last-ditch diversion to save Mrs. Clinton.

This popular theory evokes what political wags now call the Rule of Rahm: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It originated with Mr. Obama’s original Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who famously (if cynically) espoused the use of crises to enact policies and laws that could never pass congressional muster in normal times. (The Zim-corollary to the Rahm’s Rule is: “If no crisis is available, create a diversion.”)

Close observers of the Obama administration’s modus operandi believe that with the presidential race tightening – possibly due to damage done to Mrs. Clinton by the WikiLeaks e-mail disclosures – a bold move was required to divert media- and public-attention away from those wretched hacked e-mails. A sensational announcement by Mr. Comey that the Clinton case was being re-opened – possibly in connection with the sex-pervert Weiner – was just the ticket for sending the media hounds baying after a fresh scent. (With no hurricane extant, it was the best they could do.) Wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage is sure to follow. Then, after a week or so – runs the theory – the FBI will sound the all-clear, announcing that nothing untoward has been found and Mrs. Clinton is completely in the clear. During that week, the WikiLeaks story will vanish down the Memory Hole and – Voila! – Election Day will arrive. With Mrs. Clinton free of any taint from vexing e-mails and perverts, she cruises to an easy win.

Is this credible? History suggests that it could be what’s happening. Diversions have been a favorite tool of the Obamanistas from day one. On the other hand, would an issue as risky as Mrs. Clinton’s classified e-mails be a plausible choice for a diversion? Announce that Mrs. Clinton might still have a classified e-mail problem in order to divert attention away from the WikiLeaks disclosures? Are you kidding me? That’s like the Keystone Kops starting a fire to stop a pie-battle.

(2) There’s a revolt inside the FBI.

I have heard this one from several quarters, including from a merchant I know whose clients include wives of several FBI agents. This theory has Mr. Comey re-opening the Clinton investigation to head off leaks of new information by FBI agents who are outraged that she was allowed to skate on charges that would fire any ordinary citizens (at least) or send them to jail (at worst).

Part of this theory includes the possibility that those Clinton laptops supposedly “smashed” under FBI-supervision were actually salvaged by agents who refused to destroy evidence connected to a possible criminal case. Another part is the idea that Mr. Comey was forced, for political reasons, to close the original investigation without charging Mrs. Clinton. He knows that this was a mistake which he needs to correct in the interest of restoring the morale and integrity of his agency.

This seems far-fetched, but you never know. There is the verbal evidence of the merchant (whose occupation I decline to identify, to prevent a fire or a mysterious disappearance). Nearly anything is possible when politics intrude into law-enforcement.

(3) Director Comey wants to wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

By this theory, Mr. Comey’s re-opening of the Clinton case is an October Surprise meant to mortally wound Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Comey’s reputation as an honest public servant took a hit when he closed the case in July. Undoubtedly (say the theorists) he was commanded by his superiors to stop the music so Mrs. Clinton could win. In order to restore his reputation and possibly protect his job after the election, Mr. Comey wants Mrs. Clinton to lose. Or perhaps he believes she is headed for a sure loss, so he wants to look good to Mr. Trump by re-opening the case. Either way, it’s all about his job.

Could it be true? It’s all speculation, of course. We can’t know because we don’t know Mr. Comey’s heart. He has a reputation for honesty. I would hate to learn that he’s just another political hack.

(4) President Obama wants to wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Thus, he has directed Mr. Comey to re-open the Clinton case to cast a cloud of suspicion over her on the eve of the election. This is so far-fetched that I hesitate to include it as a plausible theory. We often hear of the enmity between the Obamas and the Clinton, stemming from the 2008 Democratic primary when Mrs. Clinton “wuz robbed” of a sure win by the dazzling, silver-tongued upstart who came out of nowhere to stop her at the five-yard-line. But Mr. Obama is enthusiastically campaigning for her, and so is Mrs. Obama. Is that all just for show? How could the president want Mr. Trump to win, when he is dead certain to undo much of Mr. Obama’s transformative “change?” Knocking out Mrs. Clinton would really be a daft move on his part. More than anything else, he wants his legacy to be protected by a new president who is somewhat sympathetic to it.

(5) Mr. Comey is an honest lawman following the evidence where it leads.

We have been made so cynical by corrupt political dealings that the possibility of actual honesty motivating a public official seems improbable. (I admit to being guilty of this, too.) However unlikely it may seem, Mr. Comey could be a serious tough-guy who won’t bow to political pressures from either side. I am sympathetic to the difficult tap-dance he has to perform to enforce the law honestly, while avoiding the appearance of trying to influence an election in which one of the candidates might have violated federal law. As Gilbert and Sullivan famously wrote, “A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one.”

On the other hand, honest law-enforcement is fundamentally compromised – arguably corrupted – when its agents must tiptoe round possible political consequences when they investigate violations by political figures. To the man on the street – who absolutely knows he would never be treated so delicately – the whole thing looks and smells bad.

My assessment (for what it’s worth).

Probably none of these theories is fully accurate. I reject (3) and (4) completely, for their political unlikelihood. Even if Mr. Comey were a fanatical acolyte of Mr. Trump, he would be insane to do something to deliberately wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. If she wins, he would be toast, of course. But even if Mr. Trump should win, how could he ever trust an FBI director who took official actions for the purpose of defeating a candidate for the presidency? I’m not a lawyer, but I think this would come very close to treason. It simply can’t be.

Ditto for (4). I don’t give Mr. Obama very high marks for political integrity (assuming that the term itself is not oxymoronic). But the idea that he would actually conspire to defeat the candidate of his own party seems almost – how else to say it? – “Republican.” (Only Republicans treat the candidate of their party like this. Democrats, never.)

My choice for explaining Mr. Comey’s recent move is (5). Absent concrete evidence that he is politically motivated in some way, I prefer to assume that he is acting honestly and in good faith. At the same time, it would be schoolboy-ish to ignore the intrusion of politics into law-enforcement. Carrying out the president’s political agenda is the job of any agency-director, but partisan hacks don’t usually have careers that cross party-lines. (Where are Janet Reno and Madeline Albright these days?) Politics must have its limits in law-enforcement. The official who ignores those limits becomes a “one-hit-wonder.”

I do attach some credence to (2) and (1) – probably in that order. I have known a few FBI agents over the years. They seemed like exceptionally honest and not at all political in their work. Most of them could easily move to other non-federal law-enforcement jobs, so one imagines that they have some freedom – within reasonable bounds – to voice disapproval if a decision handed down from on high contradicts the evidence in a case. They won’t speak of this outside of the agency, but things might get pretty hot inside. How far this might go, I couldn’t say without some inside-connections.

I can also entertain the possibility that theory (1) is at least partly correct. Diversions are, as I have mentioned, a favorite Obama-administration tool. It’s not too big a stretch to imagine that this might be their hail-Mary pass to salvage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. But the serious objections I noted still stand. It’s why this theory gets my lowest probability.

Whatever the case, however, I urge readers to concentrate on the real issues involved in this campaign. There’s a lot more at stake than who tried to manipulate media-coverage.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[1] “She Beat the Rap (The FBI Says she’s Not a Crook)” – http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/22643-she-beat-the-rap-the-fbi-says-she%E2%80%99s-not-a-crook

[2] Willie Sutton (1901-1980) was a notorious bank robber who stole an estimated $2 million. He spent half of his life in prison and escaped three times, including once from Sing-Sing in 1932. He became famous for saying he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” Mafioso Donald Frankos said Sutton made Jesse James and John Dillinger “look like amateurs.” Later in his life he became a consultant on bank-security.

 

944 Airplanes: Computer-Voting Early Warning

woody zimmermann 120In 2003, California Governor Gray Davis faced an October 7 recall election which pollsters predicted he would probably lose. The Guv – no doubt concerned only for the public weal – wanted the courts to delay the election until March, 2004. He said this would give local election offices time to replace “antiquated” punched-card equipment with a modern, computerized voting system.

The request seemed entirely reasonable, since even Hottentots in Darkest Africa knew that Al Gore lost the 2000 election because Florida was still using “creaky” old card readers left over from the Cleveland administration. (Or was it the Grant administration?)

During the 2000 Recount, officials and fresh-faced media types denounced “outdated” voting equipment in the Florida counties – especially those “antiquated, unreliable” card readers used to count and recount the ballots. Pundits repeatedly asked – with eyes piously raised to heaven – when Florida would come into the 21st century.

Scene-change: November, 2002; Montgomery County, Maryland. Always zealous to be completely up-to-date, MC rolled out a fully computerized voting system for the 2002 election, designed to avoid those nasty problems that cost Al Gore Florida’s electoral votes. However, if post-election comments by citizens – both in print and on-air – are a guide, it seemed that there was still a problem.

Numerous county residents voiced doubts that their votes had actually been cast, and worried about the lack of “artifacts” – i.e., a physical ballot. I, too, had wondered when someone would finally notice that high-tech voting – much touted as the Republic’s salvation – is non-verifiable, non-traceable, and non-duplicable. The voter takes it entirely on faith that his ballot was cast as he desired and can be verified.

Yes, yes – I see those hands raised by our computer whiz-kids. Of course, backup files can record how electronic ballots were cast. But Dude! How secure is that? Haven’t the hackers shown us, by this time, how easily files can be changed, erased or replaced? How hard would it be for an able hacker to break into an election-records computer and change an election result without leaving a trace to betray the deed?

The punched-card ballots we used for years in Montgomery County, where I lived for 33 years, might have looked old-fashioned. (No! Not that! Anything but that!) But they were actually solid artifacts, repeatedly usable for recounting. Moreover, the small, mechanical devices MC provided for punching our votes were – as I recall – entirely dependable and easy to use. A child could have operated them. The card did not contain pre-perforated punches that the voter pushed out with a stylus. One can only assume that those Florida tales of balky, unreliable punched-card ballots were either much exaggerated, or were indicative of a contract filled by some election official’s brother-in-law.

An electronic ballot seems sexy and very modern, but it is non-substantial – “virtual,” as they say – and immensely susceptible to fraud and manipulation to a degree that punched-card ballots are not, provided the latter are guarded and handled with reasonable care. Electronic voting is so rich with opportunities for chicanery that those old stories of unplugged voting machines in Chicago precincts on election-day will seem as childish as Romper Room, in retrospect.

Old computer pros like me pounded our armchairs and shouted at the TV set during the 2000 Florida-recount, as nonsense poured out from ignorant youngsters who had no idea what they were talking about. “Antiquated card-readers?” The internal combustion engine is over 100 years old. Is it “antiquated?” High-speed card readers represented a technology zenith of the late 1970s, when 2400-card-per-minute machines read hundreds of thousands of cards (and millions of actual punches) per day, nearly error-free.

At that time, I worked with programs stored on 10,000 cards and containing some 1,000,000 punches. It was extremely uncommon to encounter a single error caused by machine-reading of these gigantic decks. Had these machines produced read-errors regularly, we could not have done our work.

This is the equipment Florida and other states used for vote-counting. NASA put a man on the moon with this same “creaky” gear. How did we get Neil Armstrong there (and back) if the technology was so unreliable?

We phased out punched-card media – not because the technology was unreliable, but because it was too slow. And card-storage was too bulky and too susceptible to dampness, mice, fire, flood, and clumsiness. (A dropped card-deck was the nightmare of every early programmer.)

But with ballots, the issues are different. Solidity and replication matter far more than storage or speed. The slander of Florida’s voting equipment was entirely specious. It was really a media “bums-rush” to explain why Earth-tones Al lost the election. And in that rush, nobody noticed that when you abandon punched cards, you lose the artifacts which provide proof, enable recounting, and ultimately inspire public confidence that an election has been conducted correctly and without fraud.

The real problem in Florida was not poor technology. It was improper handling of ballots – on live TV, no less. My daughter, a Maryland attorney, called me one morning during the 2000 recount.

“The TV is showing people fanning packs of ballot cards,” she exclaimed. “Unguarded card decks are lying on tables. Some cards have fallen onto the floor. Reporters are walking all over the place. This is evidence!” she practically shouted. “You can’t handle evidence that way!” (Of course, you can – I reminded her – if you hope to change an election result.)

Running scared from media hype about “antiquated equipment” is not the same as a thorough, informed examination of a process and an expert evaluation of its equipment. If we think fraud lurked in every chad of punched-card ballots, just watch for the possibilities with electronic voting.

Early in my career I worked at a Navy technical shop which analyzed tactical and strategic military problems – often using computer programs for complex determinations. One of those programs, actually supplied by Air Force analysts, compared the tactical needs of the Navy and the Air Force for a certain aircraft. The program indicated how many planes each branch would need for various scenarios. We ran it against varying sets of parameters (inputs), finding that Air Force needs varied widely over different scenarios. But the answer for the Navy always read, “The Navy gets 944 airplanes.”

Finally, someone checked the actual program-code – written in a computational language called FORTRAN. We found the direct print-statement: “The Navy gets 944 airplanes.” The answer was not “parameterized”; i.e., “944” was not a computed quantity. Those calculations (and “results”) had been used in strategic and tactical deliberations at high military levels (hopefully, only by the fly-boys). Some sly Air Force analysts had played a joke on us which they knew we would quickly discover.

Prank or not, I learned something valuable about computers the day we discovered that bit of tongue-in-cheek computational chicanery. I saw that computers are tools, not oracles. They should not be trusted, implicitly, as they are only as trustworthy as the people operating them. That goes double (maybe quadruple) for elections.

Eventually the rest of the country will learn this, too. But our headlong rush into electronic voting – which, indeed, has already occurred during the past decade – could produce a lesson more far-reaching than a few airplanes, more or less, for the Navy.

Governor Davis failed in his desperation bid to delay the recall-election by raising the (dreaded) spectre of punched-card ballots. (He lost the election, too, but not because of hanging chads, etc.) Take it from an old computer pro – the issue was, like, totally bogus.

Computerized voting has become the proverbial fox in the hen-house. Every election now produces new scandals involving it. Those new, improved virtual systems will eventually become so hopelessly hacked and vulnerable to compromise that punched card voting will actually return as an “anti-voting-fraud innovation.” In fact, this is already occurring.

Fraud is the dark cloud hanging over this key element of our republican democracy. Fraudulent registration, voting by mail, and political resistance to showing ID at the polls are bad enough problems. But if citizens become convinced that computerized voting has made our entire process untrustworthy, we’re going to be in real trouble.

Today, old computer guys like me are sitting in our easy chairs, thumping our canes and wheezing about “944 airplanes” to anyone who will listen. Not every “modern improvement” turns out to be sound or beneficial. If we want honest elections, we need to take a giant step backward from electronic voting.

Of course, this assumes that we all actually want honest elections.